The best of the best in the Astros farm system.
Over the last few years, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has orchestrated many trades that have contributed to the big club’s success. The downside, of course, is that by making the big club the formidable force that it is, the overall organizational depth has taken a hit. Or, has it?
Consider this list of current big leaguers that were once part of the Astros future that are now finding success with other organizations:
Mike Foltyniewicz: Ace of the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves.
Vince Velasquez: Integral part of the Phillies pitching staff and part of their promising future.
Ramon Laureano: Roaming the outfield providing highlight reel defense and a solid bat for the surprising Oakland A’s.
Josh Hader: The most dominant left-handed reliever in baseball this year for the playoff-bound Brewers.
Teoscar Hernandez: Power-hitting outfielder for the Blue Jays and a part of that team’s promising future.
Colin Moran: Fourth in NL rookies in RBI for the Pirates.
Joe Musgrove: Middle of the rotation bulldog having success with the Pirates this year after winning World Series ring last year.
Domingo Santana: A 30-homer, high OBP outfielder for the Brewers in 2017, though he had a regression and lack of playing time in 2018.
There are others as well, such as Delino DeShields, Robbie Grossman, Daniel Mengden, Michael Feliz, and David Paulino, to name a few, that have left the Astros organization via trade that are finding success at the big league level.
However, it’s not just current big leaguers that have left the organization via trade. Several top overall prospects in baseball are still waiting to bust through with their new organizations. Most notably: Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman, Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, Jacob Nottingham, Pat Sandoval, Peter Solomon, Adrian Houser, Jorge Alcala, Hector Perez, and Gilberto Celestino. All these players were once considered among the top prospects in the Astros system.
With such an exodus of talent from the organization in such a short period, one could safely assume that the Astros minor league system is in dire need of replenishing. One would also be emphatically wrong.
In 2018, the Astros top five affiliates each made the playoffs. They had pitching staffs that led their respective leagues in strikeouts and set a MiLB record for strikeouts in a season. Also, two teams won their league championships and had an overall record of 367-262 to lead all of baseball in organizational winning percentage. The organization still ranks in the top-10 according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America and features two of the top eight overall prospects in the game in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley.
So, with this as a backdrop, let’s take a closer look at what was a banner season for the Astros MiLB affiliates, some of the notable performers, and dish out some MVP awards.
Fresno Grizzlies (AAA)
J.D. Davis won the Triple-A batting title after hitting .342. A.J. Reed was named the team MVP by the Astros brass and led all of Triple-A with 108 RBI and finished second with 28 home runs. Myles Straw wasn’t promoted to Triple-A until mid-season but still managed to finish second with 35 stolen bases. Garrett Stubbs slashed an impressive .310/.382/.455 and displayed excellent defense and pitch framing.
Yordan Alvarez continued his rise up prospect rankings and earned a promotion to Fresno after demolishing Double-A pitching. Alvarez finished the season with a .293 average, 20 home runs, and 74 RBI in just 88 games across two levels.
Josh James split the season between Fresno and Corpus Christi and perhaps raised his profile more than any prospect in recent memory. James finished the season with a 3.23 ERA and a ridiculous 171 strikeouts in just 113 innings.
Cy Sneed finished with ten wins and a very respectable 3.83 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 127 innings pitched.
Dean Deetz returned from suspension and injury and absolutely destroyed hitters, finishing with a 0.79 ERA and 50 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched. Rogelio Armenteros battled some command issues this season but still managed an 8-1 record with a 3.74 ERA and 134 K in 118 innings of work.
Kyle Tucker, and it isn’t even close. Tucker started the season as the second youngest everyday player in the league and struggled a bit out of the gate. On June 1, nearly two months into the season, Tucker was hitting a respectable but pedestrian .273 with an OPS barely over .800.
Tucker finished the season with these gaudy numbers: .332 AVG / .400 OBP / .590 SLG / .990 OPS / 86 R / 93 RBI / 27 DBL / 3 TRP / 24 HR / 20 SB. At 21 years old, Tucker still has some physical development to do, but the kid is a star in the making.
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA)
Randy Cesar had a Texas League record 42-Game hitting streak and finished the season with a slash line of .296/.348/.428/.776. Josh Rojas played most of his season with the Hooks and finished with an excellent 53:76/BB:K and stole 38 bases across two levels.
Ronnie Dawson played the final month with the Hooks and showed off his power-speed combo, slashing .289/.341/.518/.859 and combined to steal 35 bases and hit 16 home runs across two levels.
Brandon Bielak made 11 appearances with the Hooks and posted a 2.35 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and struck out 57 in 61.1 innings. Across two levels, Bielak posted a 2.23 ERA. Corbin Martin gave up six earned runs while recording just one out in his first start with the Hooks. After that, Martin was brilliant, finishing with an ERA of 2.97 and a WHIP of 1.09 in 103 innings.
Ryan Hartman became just the fourth pitcher in Texas League history to accomplish the pitching “Triple Crown,” finishing tied for first with wins (11), first in ERA (2.69), and first in strikeouts (143).
Buies Creek Astros (Advanced-A)
Record: 80-57 (League Champions)
Corey Julks, a University of Houston product, put together an outstanding all-around season. Julks played his last 61 games with the Astros and hit .282, with 26 extra-base hits, 16 stolen bases, and scored 39 runs. Osvaldo Duarte played 132 games with the Astros and put together his best professional season, hitting .276 with 68 runs scored 52 RBI, and 21 stolen bases.
Brandon Bailey pitched 20 of his 25 games in 2018 with the Astros and posted 2.49 ERA and struck out 113 in 97.2 innings pitched. Bailey ended his season with the Hooks, where he continued his success. Tyler Ivey had a 2.69 ERA in 70.1 innings while striking out 82.
J.J. Matijevic doesn’t leap out at you with gaudy numbers but the second-year pro produces at an elite level, especially for the Carolina League. Matijevic hit only .266 but had an OPS of .849 and homered 19 times. His season totals across two levels: .277 AVG / .350 OBP / .538 SLG / .887 OPS / 66 R / 62 RBI / 26 DBL / 4 TRP / 22 HR / 13 SB.
Quad Cities River Bandits (A)
Jacob Meyers led the team in doubles and slashed an impressive .302/.383/.476/.859 in 61 games. Bryan De La Cruz hit .283 with a .728 OPS. 2018 first round pick, Seth Beer, torched the league for a .348 average and a .934 OPS. Colton Shaver led the team in home runs (15) and RBI (50).
Chad Donato went 6-0 with a 2.04 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. Cristian Javier struck out 80 in just 49.1 innings and had a 1.82 ERA before being promoted. Before they were traded, Peter Solomon and Pat Sandoval combined to go 15-2 with 159 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. Bryan Abreu went 4-1 with a 1.64 ERA and struck out 68 in just 38.1 innings.
The River Bandits pitching staff. In 1,226 innings, the staff had a MiLB season record 1,514 strikeouts, led the league in ERA (2.98), shutouts (17), saves (50), fewest hits allowed (976) and fewest home runs allowed (65). What’s perhaps even more amazing is that this staff wasn’t just 12-15 dominant pitchers overmatching the opposition. Instead, an incredible 32 different pitchers struck out batter for the River Bandits, 16 of which struck out at least 50. Still not impressed? Well, 19 different pitchers had at least one save and 18 had an ERA of 3.00 or less. A truly spectacular season by this staff and their coaches.
Tri-City ValleyCats (A-Short Season)
Record: 42-33 (League Champions)
Alex McKenna played in just 32 games but slashed .328/.423/.534 with five home runs and 21 RBI. Carlos Machado led the team in hits with 59 while batting .304 in 194 at-bats. Before being traded, Gilberto Celestino was slashing .323/.387/.480 in 34 games.
Nivaldo Rodriguez led the team with 55.2 innings and struck out 50 while posting a 2.91 ERA. Mark Moclair worked through command and control issues but managed to strike out 48 batters in 27.1 innings. Austin Hansen posted a 1.76 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP, and struck out 45 in 30.2 innings of work.
Enmanuel Valdez hit just .244 but led the team in doubles (16), runs (40), total bases (100), home runs (8), and extra-base hits (25). He was second in hits with 58 and stole 11 bases.
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